21st Century School Counseling: Dispelling Myths of the School Counselor

By Dr. Kimberlee Ratliff
Program Director, M.Ed. in School Counseling at American Public University

When you think of school counseling, do you think of a particular character portrayed in the movies or on television? Do you think of your own experience with your school counselor? Do you still use the outdated term “guidance counselor”? The role of the school counselor has evolved over the past several decades and is clearly defined in the American School Counselor (ASCA) National Model. Although a framework for school counseling exists, there are still outdated perceptions, prior experiences, and inaccurate portrayals in the media that are challenging for counselors to overcome. Additionally, school administrators may assign non-counseling duties based on a misunderstanding of the school counseling profession. Some common myths about the role of the school counselor are explored below.

Myth #1: School counselors only work with at-risk students.

The school counseling program includes promoting academic, career, and personal/social development for each student in the school (American School Counselor Association, 2012). School counselors teach or co-teach a school counseling core curriculum in the classroom in an effort to reach all students. Although they still provide individual and small-group counseling to address specific needs, their focus is on meeting all student needs rather than the needs of a select few.

Myth #2: The main role of the school counselor is coordinating testing and scheduling classes.

According to the ASCA National Model (2012), test coordination is an inappropriate duty for school counselors. School counselors are trained in test interpretation, which is a more appropriate, yet very different role. Test coordination is a time consuming task that will limit the school counselor’s ability to provide services to meet the academic, career, and personal/social needs of students.

Myth #3: School counselors only help students with academic and career needs.

Part of the school counseling role is working with students on academic and career development; however, they are also trained to help students with personal/social issues. School counselors can be an excellent resource and they offer individual and small group counseling for various personal issues, such as relationships, grief, coping with deployment, and substance abuse. Although they do not psychiatric therapy, they are trained to provide counseling services and know when to refer students to counseling support outside the school as needed.

Myth #4: School counselors discipline students.

School counselors are not disciplinarians; that is the role of the administrators in the school setting. One particular problem is the use of the school counselor to fill in for the principal when the chief administrators are off campus. Serving as an administrator substitute can create confusion for students, staff, and parents. Despite efforts to clarify my role as a school counselor, I often heard students say, “Am I in trouble?” or “What did I do?” I constantly had to remind students that they are not in trouble when they are in the counselor’s office.

Myth #5: School counselors “fix” problems.

I often joked that my magic wand was broken when parents or educators would request that I “fix” a child’s behavior. School counselors have the necessary counseling skills and understand how to apply theory to practice in order to facilitate change; however, there is no magic formula that will fix a problem instantly.

Common misconceptions and misunderstandings of the school counselor’s role can lead to under-utilizing the skills they have developed in their counselor education programs. Today’s professional school counselors work with all students on academic, career, and personal/social development. Instead of being used as data entry personnel or test coordinators, school counselors are trained to be leaders, advocates, collaborators, and change agents. At American Public University, our first course in the counseling program is appropriately titled The Professional School Counselor, which introduces our students to the ASCA National Model (2012) and the accurate role of the school counselor. We teach our students to advocate for the profession and educate others on our valuable contribution to the educational system. I’m confident that we are producing future school counselors who will continue to challenge these myths and demonstrate our true identity as leaders, advocates, collaborators, and change agents.


American School Counselor Association (2012). The ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs, Third Edition. Alexandria, VA: Author.

About the Author:

Dr. Ratliff holds an Ed.D. in Counseling Psychology, M.Ed. in School Counseling, and B.S. in Psychology. She has been with APUS since September 2010, and is an Associate Professor and Program Director of School Counseling. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), K-12 Certified School Counselor (VA) and Trauma and Loss School Specialist with 12 years of experience as an elementary and middle school counselor.

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